I was browsing the bookshelves in a provincial airport lounge last month. I really like browsing business books in these sorts of places (as opposed to ordering books from Amazon). You find things you would not normally find and you can pick them up and read the gist of what the book is about in a very tactile way. Something Kindle struggles with, I think.
Anyway, I came across a what looked like interesting title “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. Being one always on the look-out for new Thursday Thoughts, I bought it and have started to read it…
The book is written by Daniel Kahneman who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 for his pioneering work, developed with Amos Tversky, on decision-making and uncertainty.
Interestingly, there is a quote on the front cover by Steven Pinker which says “(Kahneman is) certainly the most important psychologist alive today”. I thought the blend of economics and psychology would be interesting – and I have not been disappointed!
To begin with, Kahneman’s says that we all have two “systems” of thought. He adopts terms originally proposed by the psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West referring to two systems in the mind: System 1 and System 2. Thee labels of System 1 and System 2 are, apparently, widely used in psychology. For those of you, like me, who are mere lay-folk in the art of psycho-babble, this was news!
Here is an extract from the introduction which outlines the two systems:
“When we think of ourselves, we identify with System 2, the conscious, reasoning self that has beliefs, makes choices and decides what to think about and what to do. Although System 2 believes itself to be where the action is, the automatic System 1 is the hero of the book.”
Kahneman describes System 1 as: “effortlessly originating impressions and feelings that are the main sources of the explicit beliefs and deliberate choices of System 2”.
In rough order of complexity, he describes some examples of the automatic activities that are attributed to System 1:
Detect that one object is more distant than another
Orient to the source of a sudden sound
Complete the phrase “bread and…..”
Make a “disgust face” when shown a horrible picture
Detect hostility in a voice
Answer to 2 + 2 = ?
Read words on large billboards
Drive a car on an empty road
Find a strong move in chess (if you are a chess master)
Understand simple sentences
Recognise that a “meek and tidy soul with a passion for detail” resembles and occupational stereotype
The highly diverse operations of System 2 have one feature in common: the require attention and are disrupted when attention is drawn way. Here are some examples:
Brace for the starter-gun in a race
Focus attention on the clowns in the circus
Focus on the voice of a particular person in a crowded and noisy room
Look for a woman with white hair
Search memory to identify a surprising sound
Maintain a faster walking speed than is natural for you
Monitor the appropriateness of your behaviour in a social situation
Count the occurrences of the letter a in a page of text
Tell someone your phone number
Park in a narrow space (for oct people except garage attendants)
Campare two washing machines for overall value
Fill out a tax form
Check the validity of a complex logical argument
The interesting thing that I have learnt so far is that we use System 1 and System 2 interchangeably throughout the day – and each system performs very important and different functions. Kahneman’s main thesis is that the intuitive (System 1) often arrives at a conclusion or judgement without the detailed logical evidence for that decision being through by System 2. There are many examples he gives where this is so – and here is one of them from page 43 of the book:
“A disturbing demonstration of depletion effects in judgement was recently reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The unwitting participants in the study were eight parole judges in Israel. They spend entire days reviewing applications for parole. The cases are presented in random order, and the judges spend little time on each one, an average of 6 minutes. (The default decision is denial of parole; only 35% of requests are approved. The exact time of each decision is recorded, and the times of the judges’ three food breaks – morning break, lunch and afternoon break – during the day are recorded as well.)
The authors of the study plotted the proportion of approved requests against the time since the last food break. The proportion spikes after each meal, when about 65% of requests are granted. During the two hours or so until the next feeding, the approval rate drops steadily, to about zero just before the meal. As you might expect, this is an unwelcome result and the authors carefully checked many alternative explanations. The best possible account of the data provides bad news: tired and hungry judges tend to fall back on the easier default position of denying requests for parole. Both fatigue and hunger probably play a role.”
The book is certainly worth a read and I hope that even these small excerpts have make you think – even if only to understand we all have two systems of thinking that dance to the daily cycles of our more basic animal behaviours – and that, for all important decisions, gut-feel or intuition is not enough and that it is important to engage System 2. An aspect of thinking I sometimes struggle with! And it appears I am not alone – since the book highlights this as one of the main causes of human suffering in the world today.
As an eternal optimist, I came across this rather splendid creed which was originally published in 1912 by Christian D. Larson in a book called “Your Forces and How to Use Them”.
I hope it gives you a lift and makes you more optimistic!
THE OPTIMSIT’S CREED
To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet.
To make all your friends feel that thesis something in them.
To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are are about your own.
To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.
To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticise others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.
To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud words, but in great deeds.
To live in the faith that the whole world is on your side so long as you are true to the best that is in you.
One hundred years on, and every word rings true. How timeless the messages are. In these times of so much pessimism, it makes you think how important it is to be an optimist! Oh – and May the Force be with You!
Following on from the popular RSAnimate video of Dan Pink’s great lecture describing the three attributes that really motivate people: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, I came across an equally impressive piece of work by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in this month’s McKinsey Quarterly. If you don’t already subscribe, it is well worth doing so.
In their recent book, The Progress Principle, Amabile and Kramer uncover the events that allow people to gain deep engagement in their jobs and make progress towards meaningful, purposeful work. The McKinsey article (How leaders kill meaning at work) highlights four really interesting traps that leaders fall into that prevent the progression towards meaningful work.
These four traps outlined are:
Strategic “Attention Deficit Disorder”
Corporate “Keystone Cops”
Misbegotten “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” (BHAGs)
We all need a higher purpose – and if we cannot find it in our work we do, then we don’t work nearly as well than if we do have one. The article ends with a simple set of ideas:
“As an executive, you are in a better position than anyone to identify and articulate the higher purpose of what people do within your organization. Make that purpose real, support its achievement through consistent everyday actions, and you will create the meaning that motivates people toward greatness. Along the way, you may find greater meaning in your own work as a leader.”
A bit cheesy, perhaps, but there are some useful case studies in the article.
My parents founded The HALO Trust – a mine clearance charity that has grown very successfully, over the years. The purpose of the organisation has remained the same since its inception: “GETTING MINES OUT OF THE GROUND, NOW”. Very present. Very simple. Very effective. And the motto has really stood the test of time and allows everyone in HALO to focus on a very clear and important purpose.
I am sure that every reader has other interesting stories of their own – both positive and negative – which I would love you to share below!
A couple of weeks ago, I took one of my sons to London. He wanted to go and see the Occupy London site near St Paul’s – during time that the Church of England were digging deep into their consciences to work out how they should react. A few days later, I was in Edinburgh with my daughter and went to the equivalent tented camp. In both cases, I took the time to try to understand what was in the minds of those protesting. There was a peaceful atmosphere in both camps – but a surprising lack of practical things for people like me to do. However, the two experiences got me convinced that the system is broken and that things need to change.
A chance Tweet on Twitter this morning gave me the opportunity to explore the issues further. The Tweet alerted me to a new sort of Peer2Peer investment site called CrowdCube and a new sort of bank – called Civilised Money – who were looking for investors. The idea took my interest and I read to find out more.
I was particularly struck by the coincidence that the project is the brainchild of Neil Crofts. I have been a keen reader of Neil Croft’s weekly blog – and applaud his ideas on Authentic Leadership. On reading more about the Civilised Money idea, is struck me that this kind of Peer2Peer banking is just like Skype was in 2002 – only transposed onto the banking system. It made a heck of a lot of sense, so I took the plunge and invested!
By the way, I am definitely NOT an investment advisor. I am not even sure that by the time you read this, the investment opportunity will still be open. But I am so encouraged that there are those protesting (making the issues clear) as well as those who are trying to find new ways to design banks.
I hope it makes you think a bit more about what you opt in to – and out of.
I have always been fascinated by what makes up a good story and the effect that is has on the way we think about the world and our place within it. I have only recently came across the work of Joseph Campbell and his seminal work “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. In the book he explores the underlying pattern of the heroic struggle from each of the great myths from around the world. He then goes on to uncover an underlying sequence of typical “hero-actions” which are embedded in each of these stories.
George Lucas (the creator of StarWars) was so impressed by Cambpell’s work that he wrote the StarWars epic using his ideas. We are very fortunate that a series of six programmes summarising Campbell’s work and his ideas were recorded just before he died. You can see the first (and subsequent) videos on the (rather whacky) internet site below – though it is obviously much better to buy “The Power of Myth” DVD on Amazon or elsewhere and watch it legally:
Campbell neatly summarises one of the heoric struggles with phrase early-on in the six-part documentary:
“where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world”
The orphan archetype is possibly the most common storyline that Campbell uncovered. Moses, Romulus and Remus, Cinderella, Oliver Twist, Mowgli, Tarzan, Superman, Annie, King Arthur, Frodo Baggins, and yes, Harry Potter – as well as Luke Skywalker.
As Terry Windling so succinctly puts it:
“The orphaned hero is not, however, a mere fantasy cliché; it’s a mythic archetype, springing from some of the oldest stories of the world. This archetype includes not only those characters who are literally orphaned by the death of their parents, but also children who are lost, abandoned, cast out, disinherited by evil step–parents, raised in supernatural captivity, or reared by wild animals.”
Christopher Volger (in his book The Writer’s Journey) created twelve distinct stages to a good story:
1. Ordinary World
2. Call to Adventure
3. Refusal of the Call
4. Meeting the Mentor
5. Crossing the Frist Threshold
6. Tests, Allies and Enemies
10. The Road Back
11. Resurrection of the Hero
12. Return with the Elixir
So there you have it. The twelve stages to telling a good story based on Campbell’s “Monomyth” – or common pattern for all good stories. Try it. It really works. Whether you are narrating an important case study that is being used as an example to help you sell a product or service at work, or giving a bed-time story to children, the underlying drama always touches a chord. And it is fun to hold the attention when only you know where you are going to end up! Ah, yes. That is the other trick. It is important to know where you are going to end up (roughly) – though I find some of the fun of story-telling is that the story itself can unfold in unexpected ways. The Hero always finds his or her way through, though!
Oh, and by the way. Steve Jobs was an orphan. Which is probably why his real-life story has touched us in so many ways in the past week.
On doing some research into the great Afghan-Scot mystic, Idries Shah, I came across this brilliant piece in his book “Learning How To Learn” 1979 pp85-88:
One of the keys to human behaviour is the attention-factor.
Anyone can verify that many instances, generally supposed to be important or useful human transactions on any subject (social, commercial, etc.,) are in fact disguised attention-situations.
It is contended that if a person does not know what he is doing (in this case that he is basically demanding, extending or exchanging attention) and as a consequence thinks that he is doing something else (contributing to human knowledge, learning, buying, selling, informing, etc.,) he will:
(a) be more inefficient at both the overt and the covert activity;
(b) have less capacity of planning his behaviour and will make mistakes of emotion and intellect because he considers attention to be other than it is.
If this is true, it is most important that individuals realise:
1. That this attention-factor is operating in virtually all transactions;
2. That the apparent motivation of transactions may be other than it really is. And that it is often generated by the need or desire for attention-activity (giving, receiving, exchanging).
3. That attention-activity, like any other demand for food, warmth, etc., when placed under volitional control, must result in increased scope for the human being who would then not be at the mercy of random sources of attention, or even more confused than usual if things do not pan out as they expect.
CERTAIN PRINCIPLES MAY BE ENUNCIATED. THEY INCLUDE:-
1. Too much attention can be bad, (inefficient).
2. Too little attention can be bad.
3. Attention may be ‘hostile’ or ‘friendly’ and still fulfil the appetite for attention. This is confused by the moral aspect.
4. When people need a great deal of attention they are vulnerable to the message which too often accompanies the exercise of attention towards them. E.g., someone wanting attention might be able to get it only from some person or organisation which might thereafter exercise (as ‘its price’) an undue influence upon the attention-starved individual’s mind.
5. Present beliefs have often been inculcated at a time and under circumstances connected with attention-demand, and not arrived at by the method attributed to them.
6. Many paradoxical reversals of opinion, or of associates and commitments may be seen as due to the change in a source of attention.
7. People are almost always stimulated by an offer of attention, since most people are frequently attention-deprived. This is one reason why new friends, or circumstances, for instance, may be preferred to old ones.
8. If people could learn to assuage attention-hunger, they would be in a better position than most present cultures allow them, to attend to other things. They could extend the effectiveness of their learning capacity.
9. Among the things which unstarved people (in the sense of attention) could investigate, is the comparative attraction of ideas, individuals, etc., apart from their purely attention-supplying function.
10. The desire for attention starts at an early stage of infancy. It is, of course, at that point linked with feeding and protection. This is not to say that this desire has no further nor future development value. But it can be adapted beyond its ordinary adult usage of mere satisfaction.
11. Even a cursory survey of human communities shows that, while the random eating tendency, possessiveness and other undifferentiated characteristics are very early trained or diverted-weaned-the attention-factor does not get the same treatment. The consequence is that the adult human being, deprived of any method of handling his desire for attention, continues to be confused by it: as it usually remains primitive throughout life.
12. Very numerous individual observations of human transactions have been made. They show that an interchange between two people always has an attention-factor.
13. Observation shows that people’s desires for attention ebb and flow. When in an ebb or flow of attention-desire, the human being not realising that this is his condition, attributes his actions and feelings to other factors, e.g., the hostility or pleasantness of others. He may even say that it is a ‘lucky day’, when his attention needs have been quickly and adequately met. Re-examination of such situations has shown that such experiences are best accounted for by the attention-theory.
14. Objections based upon the supposed pleasure of attention being strongest when it is randomly achieved do not stand up when carefully examined. ‘I prefer to be surprised by attention’ can be paraphrased by saying, ‘I prefer not to know where my next meal is coming from’. It simply underlines a primitive stage of feeling and thinking on this subject.
15. Situations which seem different when viewed from an oversimplified perspective (which is the usual one) are seen to be the same by the application of attention-theory. e.g.: People following an authority-figure may be exercising the desire for attention or the desire to give it. The interchange between people and their authority-figure may be explained by mutual-attention behaviour. Some gain only attention from this interchange. Some can gain more.
16. Another confusion is caused by the fact that the object of attention may be a person, a cult, an object, an idea, interest, etc. Because the foci of attention can be so diverse, people in general have not yet identified the common factor-the desire for attention.
17. One of the advantages of this theory is that it allows the human mind to link in a coherent and easily-understood way many things which it has always (wrongly) been taught are very different, not susceptible to comparison, etc. This incorrect training has, of course, impaired the possible efficiency in functioning of the brain, though only culturally, not permanently.
18. The inability to feel when attention is extended, and also to encourage or to prevent its being called forth, makes man almost uniquely vulnerable to being influenced, especially in having ideas implanted in his brain, and being indoctrinated.
19. Raising the emotional pitch is the most primitive method of increasing attention towards the instrument which increased the emotion. It is the prelude to, or accompaniment of, almost every form of indoctrination.
20. Traditional philosophical and other teachings have been used to prescribe exercises in the control and focussing of attention. Their value, however, has been to a great measure lost because the individual exercises, prescribed for people in need of exercise, have been written down and repeated as unique truths and practised in a manner, with people and at a rate and under circumstances which, by their very randomness, have not been able to effect any change in the attention-training- This treatment has, however, produced obsession. It continues to do so.
21. Here and there proverbs and other pieces of literary material indicate that there has been at one time a widespread knowledge of attention on the lines now being described. Deprived, however, of context, these indications survive as fossil indicators rather than being a useful guide to attention-exercise for contemporary man.
Attention upon oneself, or upon a teacher, without the exercise of securing what is being offered from beyond the immediate surroundings, is a sort of short-circuit. As Rumi said: ‘Do not look at me, but take what is in my hand’.